Way Off Scenter
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Let’s get one thing out of the way. Geranium is not, I repeat, IS NOT, in the strictest sense a floral note. To the best of my considerable horticultural/botanical knowledge, geranium flowers are utterly without scent. (By the way, the “geraniums” that grandma grew in her window boxes, and the scented “geraniums” from which geranium oil is extracted are not even geraniums at all, but members of the allied genus Pelargonium.) Natural geranium oil is derived from the leaves of the rose-scented Pelargonium. While geranium shares aromachemical content – particularly geraniol – with rose, and is used in many rose reconstructions, it does not smell exactly like rose. It has a peculiar bittersweet, astringent, herbaceous-aromatic character about it, one that occupies a territory bounded roughly by mint, sage, and lavender. Those who complain that they can’t smell the geranium in Geranium pour Monsieur are probably sniffing for a rosy floral note, and they’re not going to find one in this decidedly dry, aromatic composition.
Now as for Geranium pour Monsieur, it has been a hard fragrance for me to come to grips with. I own a bottle of it, not because I necessarily like it (though I may decide I do), but because I’ve been wearing it often just to figure it out. As others have pointed out, it’s not actually geranium, but mint that headlines this scent, and mint is notoriously one of the hardest notes to use effectively in perfumes. Not only is it conspicuous and resistant to blending; it is also instantly recognizable, and hence distracting. On top of that come the seemingly inescapable associations with toothpaste, mouthwash, and chewing gum.
How does a perfumer employ mint without suggesting an oral hygiene product? Dominique Ropion does it in Geranium pour Monsieur by harnessing mint to a team of bitter aromatics, including geranium, that are so patently inedible that the resulting accord could never be mistaken for anything you’d willingly put into your mouth. The astringent, mildly camphoraceous aspect of geranium oil is the structural link that binds the mint to the rest of this scent’s aromatic elements, and its use in this respect it tremendously clever and original. In fact, clever and original apply to Geranium pour Monsieur’s entire structure. I can say in all honesty that I have never smelled anything quite like it.
The first phase is bracing mint and bitter, dry, savory aromatics that deliver a sharp slap on the face. The accord is cool, clean, and medicinal. It’s also unusual in that it makes no pretense of naturalism. It smells not of any recognizable collection of herbs plucked from the ground, but rather smells proudly of aromachemicals (natural or otherwise) , selected and arranged with clear intent and objectives. In this respect it resembles certain scents from Comme des Garçons or Etat Libre de Orange’s notorious Sécrétions Magnifiques, and while it’s equally provocative, it does not employ any notes that are inherently harsh or discordant. What it does do is take olfactory abstraction to a whole new level. Sure, there’s a freshly scrubbed and shaved aspect to Geranium pour Monsieur, but this shave took place in a barbershop on Mars. Geranium pour Monsieur’s crisp, cool phase persists for an hour or two at most – not all that long, but too long for me to think of it as top notes. While it persists it is moderately potent and projects a comfortable distance from the skin: detectable at arm’s length, but never distracting.
The phase that follows is such a complete contrast that it could almost be a whole new scent. In the blink of an eye, Geranium pour Monsieur goes from icy aromatics to a dry, woody skin scent that’s built on soapy musks and sandalwood. As different from the first phase as it is in content, the second phase is still resolutely clean, and sustains the rigorously abstract style. The musks are not trying to smell “natural” in any way. They instead suggest an amplified trace of soap on just-washed skin. A true skin scent, the second phase of Geranium pour Monsieur wears very close and is not easy to detect at any distance.
Beyond its unusual bimodal olfactory progression, Geranium pour Monsieur represents several achievements for Dominique Ropion: he has succeeded in composing a mint fragrance that does not smell like toothpaste; he has created an aromatic fragrance for men that smells nothing like a traditional fougère; and he has built a “clean,” refreshing, modern fragrance without a trace of the stereotypical calone, ozone, fruit, or aquatic scent components. What I can’t decide is whether I like the way it smells.
09 June, 2014 (Last Edited: 14 June, 2014)